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Archbishop of Constantinople
Born c. 386, Germanicia, Syria (now Kahramanmaraş, Turkey)
Died c. 451, Great Oasis of Hibis (al-Khargah), Egypt
Venerated in Assyrian Church of the East
Feast October 25
Controversy Christology, Theotokos

Nestorius (in Greek: Νεστόριος; c. 386–c. 451) was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to 22 June 431. He was accused of heresy that later bore his name, Nestorianism, because he objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the "Mother of God" theotokos; he instead preached that "Mother of Christ" would be more fitting.[1] He was condemned at the Council of Ephesus.

Early life

Nestorius was born in 386 in Germanicia in the Roman province of Syria (now Kahramanmaraş in Turkey).[2] He received his clerical training as a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia in Antioch and gained a reputation for his sermons that led to his enthronement by Theodosius II as Archbishop following the death of Sisinnius I in 428.

Nestorian controversy

Shortly after his arrival in Constantinople, Nestorius became involved in the disputes of two theological factions, which differed in their Christology. Nestorius tried to find a middle ground between those that, emphasizing the fact that in Christ God had been born as a man, insisted on calling the Virgin Mary Theotokos (Greek: Θεοτόκος, "birth-giver of God"), and those that rejected that title because God as an eternal being could not have been born. Nestorius suggested the title Christotokos (Χριστοτόκος, "birth-giver to Christ"), but did not find acceptance on either side.

Nestorius believed that no union between the human and divine were possible. If such a union of human and divine occurred, Nestorius believed that Christ could not truly be con-substantial with God and con-substantial with us because he would grow, mature, suffer and die (which he said God cannot do) and also would possess the power of God that would separate him from being equal to humans.

Eusebius, the bishop of the neighbouring Dorylaeum was the first to accuse Nestorius of heresy but his most forceful opponent however was Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria. Nestorius opponent's charged him with detaching Christ's divinity and humanity into two persons existing in one body, thereby denying the reality of the Incarnation. This heresy came to be known as Nestorianism.

The Emperor Theodosius II (401-450) was eventually induced to convoke a general church council, sited at Ephesus, itself a special seat for the veneration of Mary, where the theotokos formula was popular. The Emperor gave his support to the Archbishop of Constantinople, while Pope Celestine I was in agreement with Cyril.

Cyril took charge of the First Council of Ephesus in 431, opening debate before the long-overdue contingent of Eastern bishops from Antioch arrived.

The council deposed Nestorius and declared him a heretic. In Nestorius' own words,

When the followers of Cyril saw the vehemence of the emperor… they roused up a disturbance and discord among the people with an outcry, as though the emperor were opposed to God; they rose up against the nobles and the chiefs who acquiesced not in what had been done by them and they were running hither and thither. And… they took with them those who had been separated and removed from the monasteries by reason of their lives and their strange manners and had for this reason been expelled, and all who were of heretical sects and were possessed with fanaticism and with hatred against me. And one passion was in them all, Jews and pagans and all the sects, and they were busying themselves that they should accept without examination the things which were done without examination against me; and at the same time all of them, even those that had participated with me at table and in prayer and in thought, were agreed… against me and vowing vows one with another against me… In nothing were they divided.

But while the council was in progress, John I of Antioch and the eastern bishops arrived, and were furious to hear that Nestorius had already been condemned. They convened their own synod, at which Cyril was deposed. Both sides then appealed to the emperor. Initially the imperial government ordered both Nestorius and Cyril deposed and exiled. However, Cyril was eventually allowed to return after bribing various courtiers.[3]

In the following months, 17 bishops who supported Nestorius' doctrine were removed from their sees. Eventually, John I of Antioch was obliged to abandon Nestorius in March 433. On August 3, 435, Theodosius II issued an imperial edict that exiled Nestorius to a monastery in the Great Oasis of Hibis (al-Khargah), in Egypt, securely within the diocese of Cyril. During an attack by desert bandits, Nestorius was injured in one such raid.

Theodosius also ordered Nestorius' writings to be burnt. They survive mainly in Syriac.


Though Nestorius had been condemned by the church, including by Syrians, ideas similar to his own remained strong in the area and eventually led to the formation of separate Nestorian churches, such as the Assyrian Church of the East, in which he is venerated as a saint.

His name was repeatedly used in the subsequent christological controversies to brand the opponents of Monophysitism.

The Bazaar of Heracleides

In 1895, a 16th-century book manuscript containing a copy of a text written by Nestorius was discovered by American missionaries in the library of the Nestorian patriarch in the mountains at Konak, Hakkari. This book had suffered damage during Muslim raids, but was substantially intact, and copies were taken secretly. The Syriac translation had the title of the Bazaar of Heracleides.[4] The original 16th century manuscript was destroyed in 1915 during the Turkish massacres of Assyrian Christians.

In the Bazaar, written towards the end of his life, Nestorius denies the heresy for which he was condemned and instead affirms of Christ "the same one is twofold" - an expression that some consider similar to the formulation of the Council of Chalcedon. Nestorius's earlier surviving writings, however, including his letter written in response to Cyril's charges against him, contain material that seems to support charges that he held that Christ had two persons.



External links

Preceded by
Sisinnius I
Archbishop of Constantinople
Succeeded by

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